Building Green Homes Breaks Into the Mainstream in Northern Cali

Green buildings are still far from typical across the U.S., but signs are mounting that mainstream homebuilders are starting to take energy efficiency and other green features a lot more seriously. The latest evidence came earlier this week when KB Home, one of the top five U.S. homebuilders, announced that all of its new developments in Northern California would be built to GreenPoint Rated standards, a green building rating system developed by Berkeley, Calif.-based Build It Green that grades homes based on energy efficiency, water and resource conservation, indoor air quality and more. “The early adopters were custom builders who championed the [GreenPoint Rated] standard,” David Myers, Build It Green’s communications and development manager, told us. “Now we’re seeing it move into the mainstream.”

The announcement marks the first commitment by a major homebuilder to construct all its homes in a region to the GreenPoint Rated standard, an important validation for the nonprofit that was established in 2004 (so far more than 10,000 single- and multi-family homes in California and Nevada have been or are being built to meet Build It Green’s green building criteria). But more importantly, the move shows that giant homebuilders are beginning to believe that there are enough mainstream buyers interested in green to warrant a shift toward building homes with features like highly insulated windows and walls and the use of recycled materials.

“Consumers want homes that will save them money in operations and that are green,” KB Home spokesman Craig LeMessurier, told us. “The two go hand in hand.” Over the last three years, KB Home has built about 1,100-1,200 new homes in Northern California, and the company operates in 11 U.S. states. LeMessurier wouldn’t say if the company might expand the commitment to other regions, nor would he say if the new green homes in Northern California would cost more to build than conventional construction. If there is a premium passed to buyers, however, KB Home clearly believes it can win over customers with lower energy and water bills and the marketing power of green.

KB Home isn’t alone in its shift, albeit still slow, to green building. Miami-based Lennar, a leading U.S. builder, has unveiled a line of green homes called PowerSmart Homes that are designed to save up to 40 percent on energy use. The company says it aims to have all its new homes in Minnesota achieve its PowerSmart criteria. Pulte Homes, which calls itself the nation’s largest homebuilder, is increasingly focused on adding green features to its structures and last year won the U.S. Green Building Council’s “Outstanding Production Builder” award for its Villa Trieste project in Las Vegas, which includes 185 single-family homes that met the council’s highest standard, LEED Platinum.

The announcement by KB Home is also noteworthy because the company chose to hang its hat on an independent rating system, in this case Build It Green, rather than brand its homes green based on in-house criteria. GreenPoint Rated, like LEED, depends on third-party verification and that means KB Home’s structures in Northern California will have to show that they’ve been built to standards developed by independent experts.

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